AGRIBUSINES PERSPE CTI VE: Women in agri­cul­ture – a his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive

Farmer's Weekly (South Africa) - - Contents - Agribusiness per­spec­tive by Ham­let Hlomendlini Ham­let Hlomendlini is an agri­cul­tural econ­o­mist at Absa AgriBusiness. Email him at Ham­let. [email protected]

In 1988, a renowned pro­fes­sor of agri­cul­tural ex­ten­sion at the Univer­sity of Fort Hare, Prof TJ Bem­bridge, wrote a paper en­ti­tled, ‘The Role of Women in Agri­cul­tural and Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment’. In it, he wrote: “Ru­ral de­vel­op­ment is much more than an eco­nomic or tech­no­log­i­cal process; it is equally, and at the same time, a con­tin­u­ing so­cial process that en­tails ru­ral trans­for­ma­tion. An ac­cep­tance of this has led to a re­al­i­sa­tion that spe­cial at­ten­tion should be paid to the role of women in the agri­cul­tural and ru­ral de­vel­op­ment process … In fact, for the large ma­jor­ity of ru­ral women, de­vel­op­ment has not meant a change for [the] better de­spite the fact that the par­tic­i­pa­tion of women in farm­ing is vi­tal. In­deed, over­look­ing this sim­ple fact may thwart ef­forts to im­prove food pro­duc­tion and so­cial sta­bil­ity.”

women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion not new

Over the years, we have seen the par­tic­i­pa­tion of women in agri­cul­ture in­creas­ing slowly, and, as such, it has be­come an in­creas­ingly top­i­cal is­sue. With few women ac­tivists push­ing and ad­vo­cat­ing for greater in­volve­ment of women in the sec­tor from a com­mer­cial point of view, the fact is that the in­volve­ment of women in farm­ing is not new, de­spite what some people may think.

In South Africa, for ex­am­ple, and I sup­pose the same ap­plies to many other de­vel­op­ing and less de­vel­oped coun­tries in the world, when ru­ral men were in high de­mand by the min­ing sec­tor, which was thriv­ing in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, it was women who were left with the re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­duce crops and fend for live­stock.

Men’s re­spon­si­bil­ity in crop pro­duc­tion ended af­ter plant­ing, when they would re­turn to the mines. From there, women would have to over­see the en­tire process un­til har­vest­ing.

This clearly sug­gests that dur­ing th­ese years, women were, to a greater ex­tent, re­spon­si­ble not only for farm­ing and food pro­duc­tion, but for putting into prac­tice many farm­ing in­no­va­tions that were in­tro­duced by the de­vel­op­ment agen­cies of that time. De­spite Bem­bridge’s point, made 30 years ago, that the par­tic­i­pa­tion of women in farm­ing and food pro­duc­tion was as vi­tal as it is today, their par­tic­i­pa­tion and the role they played is of­ten not given the recog­ni­tion and sup­port it de­serves.

Even in com­mer­cial farm­ing en­ti­ties, women’s roles are of­ten over­looked and all the credit is given to men. This is de­spite the fact that in many cases, the farmer’s wife, although not ac­tively in­volved in the day-to-day oper­a­tions of the farm, takes care of the finances of the farm­ing en­tity.

Pas­sion­ate sup­port for small­hold­ers

More con­cern­ing is that even the re­port com­piled by the UN’s Food and Agri­cul­tural Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s (FAO) High Level Panel of Ex­perts on Food Se­cu­rity and Nutri­tion makes no spe­cific ref­er­ence to women’s role in food pro­duc­tion, and the sup­port that should be pro­vided to them. This is de­spite the re­port ex­press­ing pas­sion­ate sup­port for small­holder farm­ers as one of the tools to im­prove food se­cu­rity and nutri­tion in poor coun­tries.

It is es­ti­mated that in Africa, 80% of agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion comes from small­hold­ers, who are mostly ru­ral women. Women com­prise the largest pro­por­tion of the work­force in the agri­cul­ture sec­tor, but do not have ac­cess and con­trol over land and pro­duc­tive re­sources, which is some­thing the FAO fails to recog­nise in its re­port.

strength­en­ing own­er­ship rights

Lastly, although I want to avoid com­ment­ing on the de­ci­sion of the Con­sti­tu­tional Re­view Com­mit­tee that Sec­tion 25 of the Con­sti­tu­tion be amended to al­low for land ex­pro­pri­a­tion without com­pen­sa­tion, one can­not help but won­der if this will strengthen ru­ral women’s land own­er­ship rights.

Their own­er­ship rights are cur­rently al­most non-ex­is­tent, and this could ul­ti­mately also strengthen the de­vel­op­ment of strate­gies that recog­nise women as be­ing at the epi­cen­tre of, and great con­trib­u­tors to, the ru­ral and agri­cul­tural econ­omy.

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